Look, I’ve written about buses in this city before. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about the current system. I recognize that it’s a challenge to service such a geographically large area with a relatively small population, most of whom drive cars anyways. I have no idea what the economics of running a bus are, but they are large vehicles, and the prices are pocket change. I’m going to guess they have fairly razor-thin margins.
I want the bus to work. I take the bus in part because I want to prove that there is a market for it. I encourage people to try to take it where possible.
But it’s just so hard.
Ask anyone who’s attempted to take a bus and you’ll get the same complaints. It doesn’t depart frequently. Huge portions of the city aren’t serviced, or are only serviced once an hour (or less) or don’t get service on weekends, or anytime between the hours of 6 pm and 7 am.
These are chicken-and-egg things. Do you add more buses more frequently and hope it attracts enough new riders to offset the costs or do you wait for there to be more riders before you expand? My instinct is for the former. Anytime you want to attract new customers you have to have that initial investment. Car companies, movie studios, businesses– they all create their service or their product and then get the customers. They don’t wait for people to start knocking on their door asking for a service– they put that service out there and attract the users.
But none of this- NONE- is any good if people can’t figure out how to use the system that is in place. We could have the best system possible but if people can’t figure out how it works. This is my primary argument when looking at the bus system we have in Prince George.
“How long does it take you how to figure out how to get from UNBC to Pine Centre mall? Bear in mind, these are two of the better served locations, and both are on terminals. Try doing it from a residential area. Or adding more than one destination.”
Plus, there’s always changes. In the past months, routes have changed or been cancelled due to road work, the end of university, and the end of the school year. How do you find out about these changes? Well, you check the transit website, presumably every day before you take the bus, just to find out if there may be a change. More likely, you find out when your bus doesn’t come and you call someone to figure out why. Not that there is a number to call posted at most bus stops. Or even a map or schedule. Not a huge argument in favour of taking the bus over a car. I hacked together a system that will Tweet, email, Facebook message or text you when there is change. So it’s possible to make this more convenient. It just hasn’t been done. No idea why.
Right now, for most people, the bus is a last resort. It’s slow and inconvenient and given the option they will drive, take a cab, carpool, bike or even jog to work before they take the bus because it’s quicker and easier. Which is fine if we’ve decided that the bus is only there for people who can’t afford to travel any other way.
But if we want the transit system to grow– and I assume this is the case– seomthing has to change. And I would posit the first step is make the system we have – whatever it looks like – understandable. Post schedules at the stops. Find a way to let people say “I want to go from point A to point B, how do I do this by bus” and have it return a route. I don’t care if that’s an app or just a person on the other end of the phone whose job is to understand and communicate this information to whoever calls. Something. Because as long as the bus system is so hard to use that the only people who do it are those who can’t afford to do otherwise, it will never grow.
I had an initial point to writing this, which is that Prince George is looking for feedback on it’s transit system. You can fill out a survey here and there are open houses for feedback on Saturday and Sunday. Full details on this site.
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